Have you heard that the divorce rate, after rising for so long, has started to drop in the United States? Some studies have shown that it has begun to fall again.

When you think about what this means for American culture, you may naturally assume that it means more marriages are successful. More couples are happy. However, that’s not necessarily true.

What you have to think about is how many relationships end, whether they are marriages or not. Let’s start with the average age of marriage, which has risen. For women, it’s now 28 years old. It’s 30 for men.

That does not mean that these individuals are not in relationships when they’re younger, though, or that they do not live together. They often do, and the cohabitation numbers have been rising. Couples are putting off marriage but still moving in together.

These relationships still end. They just do not factor into the divorce rate. Fifty years ago, a couple may have felt they had to get married at 18 years old just to live together. These young marriages have a higher failure rate. Today, that same couple may still live together and may still break up five years later, but it’s just not technically a divorce. That pushes the divorce statistics down even though nothing has really changed other than the name.

Even so, this shows us a few important things. One is that couples of all ages still need to know their rights during a divorce. The other is that cohabitating couples, especially when they are unmarried parents, may have other legal concerns when their relationships end.